Jean Matal’s Map of Sixteenth-Century France
Extremely rare map of France, this example having been issued in Cologne in 1598. It was the work of Jean Matal, also known as Johannes Matalius Metellus.
The map shows the kingdom of France, with Paris prominently labeled. The most striking feature is the network of rivers that snake across the countryside. Near the stylized title cartouche is a ship in full sail.
This work is from the so-called Cologne School of mapmaking, the members of which made a concerted, though largely unsuccessful, attempt to supplant Antwerp (and to a lesser extent Amsterdam) as a mapmaking hub in the 1590s and first decades of the seventeenth century. Cologne's role as a mapmaking center was boosted by Dutch and Flemish refugees fleeing persecution and war, just as that of Amsterdam was boosted by those leaving Spanish-controlled Antwerp after 1588.
We have not been able to locate any previous examples as having been on the market. Matal’s work are all rarely seen and this 1598 issue of the map is especially scarce.
Johannes Matalius Metellus, also known as Jean Matal or Johannes Metellus Sequanas, was born in Poligny, Burgundy, France in ca. 1517. A humanist scholar, he was a polymath devoted to cartography, geography, law, paleography, and antiquarianism. Late in life he published a series of atlases; all his maps and atlases are rare and highly sought-after.
Matal was educated at Dole, Freiburg, and several Italian institutions. At Bologna, he met Antonio Agustín, a Spanish legal scholar, who recruited Matal to be his secretary. Together, the men researched ecclesiastical law, with an especial emphasis on Roman legal manuscripts, with trips to Venice, Florence, and elsewhere in Italy to study codices. In 1555, the two traveled to England to meet with Queen Mary on a mission for the Church.
After leaving his employment with Agustín, Matal traveled in the Low Countries and eventually settled in Cologne. There, he mixed with other savants, including especially Georg Cassander and Pedro Ximénez. It was in Cologne that Matal began his serious interest in mapmaking. He contributed to Braun and Hogenberg’s Civitae Orbis Terrarum; Georg Braun described him in glowing terms, “vir omni scientiarum genere praestans"—"a man outstanding in every form of knowledge."
Late in life, Matal began preparing a set of maps of the entire world. In 1594, he published an atlas of France, Austria, and Switzerland (39 maps), in 1595 an atlas of Spain (10 maps), and, posthumously, an atlas of Italy (37 maps), and one of Germany and the Netherlands (55 maps). Many of these maps were combined and augmented into atlases of Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas, and the world’s islands. In 1602, a compendium work showcased all of these previous works called Speculum Orbis Terrae; this atlas was well received by contemporaries like Walter Raleigh and is very rare today. Many of these maps and atlases were released after his death in 1598, they were finished by his friend and fellow mapmaker Conrad Loew (Matthias Quad).